Operator's light duty, leave policies discriminated against disabled, EEOC lawsuit says

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Operator's light duty, leave policies discriminated against disabled, EEOC lawsuit says
Operator's light duty, leave policies discriminated against disabled, EEOC lawsuit says

A Washington state assisted living community and skilled nursing facility operator violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by denying light duty and leave as accommodations for employees who had disabilities, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleged in a lawsuit filed Friday.

Vancouver, WA-based Prestige Senior Living, Prestige Care and their affiliates, according to the EEOC's lawsuit, had a written policy that required employees to be 100% healed while at work and to be able to perform 100% of their job duties, including marginal functions and other jobs, when returning from a leave.

Prestige and its affiliates would not work with employees to find accommodations, instead firing employees who sought light duty or sought to exceed their maximum leave allotment, according to the EEOC. Employees also were discouraged from attending routine medical appointments related to their disabilities, the commission said.

Prestige representatives told McKnight's Senior Living that they “strenuously disagree” with the allegations.

“As employers, we are fully committed to fostering a work environment where every individual is treated with respect and dignity and is offered the appropriate accommodations to perform their responsibilities,” according to a statement from the company.

In the complaint, the EEOC described cases involving 12 workers and one job applicant. Reported disabilities stemmed from a knee injury, back pain, nerve pain, pregnancy and more.

The agency said it filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California under the ADA after first attempting to reach a settlement with Prestige.

“We've been working in good faith with the EEOC for quite some time to address their concerns and to demonstrate our compliance with the law,” Prestige representatives said in the statement. “As part of our work to continually improve and provide transparency into our employment practices, we've made multiple attempts to welcome the EEOC's oversight of our practices, along with other offers. We're disappointed that they have rejected our offers of constructive engagement and instead opted to litigate the case.”

Prestige said the company intends to “vigorously defend” itself and expects to be exonerated.

The lawsuit seeks back pay, benefits and compensatory and punitive damages for the plaintiffs, as well as injunctive relief intended to prevent any future discrimination in the workplace.

“We continue to see too many cases where employers implement inflexible policies and procedures that undermine the ADA,” Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC's Los Angeles District Office, said in a statement. Eliminating unnecessary qualification standards and inflexible leave policies that discriminate against people with disabilities is one of six national priorities identified by the commission's strategic enforcement plan.

Prestige offers independent living, assisted living, memory care, rehabilitation and post-acute care at more than 80 locations in Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, according to its website.

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